When you look closely at the Ole Miss roster, you can readily identify enough players to adequately man all the special teams units.
The coaching strategy in spring, however, went deeper than that. Not only were players "tested" for special teams skills, they were tested on their "want to."
Special teams, you see, boil down to desire and a dedication to those seemingly mundane, but important, tasks.
As Special Teams Coordinator James Shibest says, it's not just a matter of having the ability, it's understanding the importance of those assignments and having the conviction to carry them out.
Jamarca Sanford has that mindset. So do Marshay Green, Fon Ingram, Cassius Vaughn, Mike Wallace, Dustin Mouzon, Kendrick Lewis, Dexter McCluster, Jason Cook, Colby Arceneaux, Emmanuel Stephens, Ashlee Palmer and several more.
They get it. They understand that a game can turn on one return, one blocked kick, one special teams' miscue or big play.
The whole team also understands no player is immune to special teams' duty. Some coaches don't ask their "stars" to contribute to special teams. Houston Nutt does not believe in that. On the Arkansas team last season, for example, two first-round picks – Darren McFadden and Felix Jones – were dynamic special teams' participants for the Hogs.
In other words, if you have the necessary skills and attitude, you will be on special teams more likely than not with this staff.
The support personnel on special teams in spring training were identified and were effective in limited team work. The return guys – Wallace, Green, McCluster, Lionel Breaux – showed they can be scintillating and dangerous. Rob Park is one of the most sure-handed holders in the business. Deep Snapper Preston Powers has two years of solid work under his belt and showed improvement during spring training. The inside personnel on placements held up well. The blockers on returns did their jobs effectively.
Now, it appears it all boils down to the actual kicking of the football – placements, punting, kickoffs. That's not a little thing.
In spring training, none of them tore the house down.
The punters – Park, Justin Sparks and Bryan Powers – were sporadic. All three showed they have it in them to be effective punters, but none of them were consistent in their limited performances in spring. Shibest said the job is wide open as August practice approaches.
Junior Josh Shene won the placekicking job, but he still had not completely returned to the form he had as a freshman, when he was very effective. It's not that his sophomore season was "bad," it just was not up to the standard he had set as a rookie. Hopefully, he can regain that form in the offseason.
Which brings us to the Achilles heel of the kicking department – kickoffs.
Ever since the NCAA opted to move kickoffs back from the 35 yard line to the 30, the Rebels have struggled. That did not change in spring. Supposedly, there is walkon help on the way in that area. There needs to be. Of all the candidates, Sparks and Shene were the best during spring, but neither set the woods on fire. That will be an area that must be addressed in the fall, without question. Sparks has the stronger leg of the two now available, but Shene is more consistent in placing the ball with average at best - depth and hang time.
The bottom line is that the return game should be exciting and productive. The coverage teams, provided the kicks give them a fair chance, should be solid. But the act of kicking the ball has to pick up quite a bit for the special teams to be all they need to be to help the Rebs win in this critical aspect of the game.
Special Teams -
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